Friday, March 1, 2013

It's the little victories...

This is the time of year (at least up north!) when it is easy to start getting frustrated.  Most athletes have been training for the new season for a few months.  Athlete or not, many people's favorite activities are getting continually pushed aside by the cold, wet weather.  Everyone seems to be sick.  Spring is close, yet at times seems so far.  Work and training drag on.

When I took the time in the fall to write out some and areas I could improve for 2013, bike handling was one item that popped off the page.  Early this year I'll be competing at a number of races that require good handling skills.  These include the draft-legal race at USAT Collegiate Nats in April and the hilly course I've been hearing about at Rev3 Knoxville in May.  On technical courses, it's easy to lose a lot of time if your cornering skills aren't up to snuff.  And in draft-legal races, poor handling can result in ending up on the pavement, or putting other people there.  Either way, not good.  One of the ways I planned to work on my handling was riding on rollers.  I'd never done it, but knew it would be good for me.

4laps = 4 180's.  Probably in a pack.
For those of you not intimately acquainted with cycling equipment, rollers are metal cylinders, about a foot long, that are attached to rails.  When you ride a bike on top, the turning wheels spin the metal rolls so that you can ride in place, inside. Since the bike isn't attached to the rollers in any way, starting and stopping take some skill.  Just riding requires concentration.  If the bike tips, so do you.  Drift too far to either side, and you ride off of the metal roll and crash.  The whole process is an exercise in balance.
silvery rolls of death

Anyway, the end of February rolls around and I have not mustered the courage to hop on. As many of you know, I am not the world's most graceful person.  I hurt myself often enough to have stopped paying much attention to it.  From early on I've gravitated to sports that require strength and fitness, rather than coordination and skill.  I'm also the type of person who cherishes a sense of control.  To many people, hopping on rollers is not a giant deal.  But to me, the prospect of trying to balance on them was terrifying.  With races looming, it was time to bite the bullet.

The standard advice for learning how to ride rollers is to set them up in a hallway, so that you can hang on to the walls as needed to start, or catch yourself from falling far.  Wanting all the help I could get, I did this, grabbed my helmet for good measure, and trekked upstairs with my tri bike.  Luckily Coach Bill was around to give pointers.  I was reminded of my first time trying to clip into bike pedals outside-- it had taken 20 minutes of pep talk from friends while I freaked out before I took off and did it.  This was a similar experience.  Freaking out, nervous giggling, check.  How do I clip in my second shoe?  Which hand do I want on the wall while I start to ride?  How can I transfer that hand to the bars without falling over?  What's the best way to save myself if I go down?

After about 10 minutes of alternately riding slowly with one hand on the wall, flinching, catching myself, and trying not to hyperventilate, I pinpointed the largest source of my terror.  It wasn't so much me that I was concerned about injuring... it was my pretty carbon bike.  I had visions dancing through my head of punching a hole in the down tube with a cleat as I fell, and my nerves were not helping the learning process.  So I rolled away my pretty bike in favor of my pal Fred the Commuter.  He's red and metal and has simple pedals and only goes one speed.  He's virtually indestructible.  Perfect.

Armed with confidence, I worked my hand down the wall as I rode... then experimented with lifting it off the wall slightly and balancing... then moved it to the bars with my other hand.  Honestly, it felt momentous. The joy was a bit like learning how to ride a bike for the first time.  I was doing it.  A couple minutes at a time, a little break, then a few more.  I got comfortable enough to adjust my hands on the bars, my position in the saddle, my cadence, etc.  It was kind of... fun.

Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do the things that try your patience and make you look like a giant dork in order to take steps forward.

Case in point.  This was not meant to be a photo op.  Sneaky coach.
I may look dumb, but at least I'm not in a heap on the ground with a hole in my tri bike.  And now that I know I can handle the rollers on my commuter, I can graduate to my tri bike the next time.  I WILL get the hang of this.

This is a great time of year to finish fixing the little things we claim we are going to work on in the off season, before spring racing arrives.  So the next time you find yourself frustrated, in a rut, bored with your winter routine, or sidelined from one of the activities you'd rather be doing, try picking something small to master.  Maybe something new.  Maybe something that seems trivial.  Practice taking off your wetsuit in the shower.  Practice flying dismounts at your neighborhood park.  Embrace the baby steps!

What little things are you doing now to get better?


  1. Rollers! Totally impressed. They scare the crap out of me too. And wearing your helmet in the hallway? Awesomeness. 'nuff said. :)

  2. I would eat shizit.... i am the worlds biggest klutz... good luck with that :)